Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mother tongue & Primary education

The issue of medium of instruction at primary level of education has come up as a burning question during the last days. The first teacher of a child is the mother and the home his first school.  The next influence on his education is that of the environment. Need of the hour is that instead of thinking in the narrow orbit of politico-religious and regional interests, an angle of thinking keeping in view the interest of the child be adopted. In this context our approach should be a scientific and psychological one and not a status symbol oriented or a part of the mad race.

According to Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, the cognitive development of a child is related with the language development and depends considerably on the individual?s interaction with the environment. The child understands the world and interacts with the environment in a sequence. Under the language development, the child acquires the language from the very birth. In addition to the words, learns the skills of syntax. Learning of language changes child?s very world. Knowledge and development of language converts the child?s those views into words, which were previously a hazy picture only for him or her.

In the early years of life, the language development is quite fast. The child goes on refining the language during all the school years. In the school, vocabulary too gets enhanced very fast. The pronunciation improves. Syntax becomes more complete. The use of grammar is also improved.

A new born who can hardly talk and understand what others say, can by the end of four years understands 2500 to 2800 words and speaks about 1500 words. We need to understand and know how this development takes place. When a baby cries and the mother responds, the first step in communication takes place. An infant tells his or her need or discomfort by bodily movements or facial expressions. This is the simple and first form of communication.

Around 3 to 4 months infants manipulate their lips and tongue along with throat to produce sounds as ba, ma, pa, da etc. The people around the child repeat these combinations of sounds and the child produces words like ma, mama, baba, dada etc. The sounds thus produced are in fact learning of simple words.

An infant of 6-7 months starts repetitive sequence of mama, papa etc. At 9-10 months the infant repeats certain more words that attract infant?s attention. By attaining the age of an year, the child learns single words which represent almost a sentence as ?ball? may mean ?there is a ball, give me ball?. The single word then takes place of double words like ?ball give?, ?dog go?, ?papa come?. The communication by the child at this stage is of telegraphic nature.

After two years the child makes a speedy progress in learning the language. The child first learns nouns then verbs, adjectives, adverbs. Pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions are learnt at a later stage. By 4-5 years the child understands and speaks enough of the native language. But the child cannot understand words like so, therefore, because, although, inspite of etc. They do not make out double meaning words like bright, hard, sweet, cold etc. They cannot understand idioms, phrases and taunting utterances. The child?s speech is ego-centric irrespective of the fact whether anyone listens or not. The child speaks to associate with others present there or just to register his or her activity or presence. He is capable of playing ?house-house? alone with dolls. He is not perfect in interaction at this stage. Colour, size, voice, shape, smell etc too can be understood upto some extent only. The child is imperfect in mother tongue too.

In India the child is exposed to more than one language. Especially in the urban scenario, the child speaks language A at home, B in the neighborhood and language C in school as medium of instruction. Thus the child has to handle three languages at a time. Undoubtedly the situation is a problematic one.

The child of 3-4 years is in the process of learning the mother tongue. When this child goes to a school where the medium of instruction is different, the child has to start the process of learning the new language all over again. This is natural that it may create confusion for the child while learning a new language. The earlier language learnt, comes in conflict with the new one. In other words the mother language is bound to interfere in learning the new language.

The interference occurs in the following ways:-

1.    Any language has its own sounds. In India we have a variety of languages in force and every language has numerous dialects. The way of pronouncing is different in Bangla and Tamil. Malyalam is different from Hindi. The first problem in learning a new language is its sound and rhythm. The pronunciation of the earlier language influences the new one and vice versa.

2.    Borrowing of words: Words of one language may creep into the other.

3.    Difficulty in sentence formation: Every language has its own way of forming the sentences. In a particular way the subject and the verb or the preposition and the connectives are placed. A child has adapted to the grammar of the mother tongue and while learning the new language he may have the tendency to construct the sentences in the same way.

In addition to these difficulties multilingualism affects other aspects also. Language is a mode of communication between individuals. Mother tongue is the language in which the child has learnt to express and understand in a manner the child feels comfortable. In learning a new language the child may have natural aversion, he or she may resist or the resistance may not be expressed which can prove more fatal.

Children are very conscious of what others say and think about them. Some children may be hesitant in learning a new language as they are afraid of making errors. The inability to learn may hinder the child?s interaction with the teachers and the peer group.

In India so many languages like Hindi, Punjabi, Kannad, Bangla, Tamil, Oriya, Malyalam, Marathi,Urdu etc enjoy a status of the mother tongue. Here English is spoken as mother tongue in a very limited section of society or area. The Germans do not recognise English as a complete language. The grammar of English at certain odd places is derailed from the track of rules. The tiny tot who is familiar with vernacular language, while learning ?aunt? in English looks for ?mausi, maamee, bua, chachi, tayee? and similarly when it comes to ?uncle?, he finds proper words for  ?maama, mausa, fufa, chacha, taya? etc. He is astonished as to where all these relations have gone.

We think and view in our mother tongue irrespective of the fact we have attained a degree of PhD in English. We feel comfortable and normal in our mother tongue only. After getting a command over one language, it is easy to learn the second and then third language. Today our so called English schools have gone unreined. The specifications stipulated for the books etc are kept at an arm?s length. They start English in the beginning and then regional and national language with their sweet will. The child is burdened with learning an entirely new language from the classes like play way which stand for playing and nursery which means to take care of the child. What do these schools wish to prove by teaching two more languages to a child who is hardly well conversant with the mother language even?

The parents, the educationists and the custodians of the child rights should adopt a sympathetic attitude of thinking in the larger interest of the child and should not be prone to false status symbol and the part of the mad race. How fair it would be if we leaving aside our religious political and native interests and keeping in view the larger interest of the kids, impart the primary education in the mother tongue and then start with the national language Hindi and link language English afterwards.

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